Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most important pieces of software on any PC or laptop is a good music player, one that can easily manage an ever growing collection of media. Filtering through music by album, genre, artist or more is a must these days, along with user-created and auto-generated playlists as well as connection to online cloud storage and music streaming services.
With the recent release of Clementine 1.2, one of the most popular media players, we’ve decided to look at it and its competitors to see if it’s really the best media player, or if there are others that deserve your attention. We’ll be looking at their ability to play different types of music, the information they can get, the layout and the general selection of features.
Some of these may not beat your favourite online service – for that, try using Nuvola as an alternative for pure streaming services, allowing you to use keyboard hotkeys and not rely on your browser.
The Ubuntu default is a Linux mainstay, but how does it compare?
There was a bit of a kerfuffle a year or so back with Rhythmbox. Soon after Ubuntu One started streaming music, Canonical opted to switch to Banshee for the next release of Ubuntu. These kinds of changes happen everyday in Linux. However, what was more surprising was the instant backtracking by Canonical, reinstating Rhythmbox as the default music player in the following release of Ubuntu – returning with better music streaming options.
Rhythmbox is a great default music player for a number of reasons. It has a straightforward interface with nice, big, standard buttons that stand out so anyone can use it. The entire music library is accessible down the side, along with a handful of basic streaming services other than Ubuntu One, and a dedicated Radio and Podcast list. Playlists are split up from this main Library, although these only include playlists you’ve created and automatic ones such as recently added or played music, with no smart recognition.
Playback is absolutely fine, with files, folders and selections being easily added to the now playing queue thanks to great integration with the standard file manager. There’s also good integration with notification areas, particularly with GNOME-based volume controls, allowing you to reduce the number of icons and control music and volume from one place.
So pretty basic but good, then. Unfortunately, that’s about it for Rhythmbox. There’s not a huge amount of customisation available for the interface – either for the layout or the way it generally works. Compared to Clementine, which has a huge selection of music streaming services available, access to Last.fm, Libre.fm and Ubuntu Music is just not enough for Rhythmbox. It needs more.
Overall, Rhythmbox is a great standard music player. Music is very well organised and easy to search through, with the multi-pane library window aiding in this. Creating playlists and play queues on the go is nice and easy, and playback is easy to control. Smart playlists are noticeably absent, though, as are the aforementioned range of online streaming services. If you’re using it, perhaps consider an upgrade.
Rhythmbox is definitely good, but it’s in sore need of a big update to make it more relevant in a world of online music
Lightweight yet with a surprising number of features
Audacious is the only media player in this group test that can be described as lightweight – and in fact like many lightweight apps, it’s made that way in mind. Still though, it’s a very popular music player and music manager, thanks in part to a good selection of features that make it more than just a basic music player.
Audacious’s interface is extremely simple, with a single pane to list all available media, listed by album by default. Music can be easily added, with a standard folder being used to check regularly for any more content for Audacious to add to your library of media. Interestingly, playlists and play queues are handled in separate tabs from the main library, keeping the interface a little cleaner and allowing you to have a specific layout of your favourite playlists without needing all of them on show.
The search function is a bit odd, though. Instead of an omnipresent search field on the interface, a separate column needs to be opened up from the menus. The results from the search are not displayed very well, with what seems to be a random mash of authors, albums and songs included in the results. This highlights a small problem with Audacious: while the interface is quite neat and minimalist, it makes looking for the music you want to play a bit of a chore. You’re much better off creating playlists in other music players to then use in Audacious, or simply add them from the file manager. There’s at least some decent integration with the desktop environment once you’ve got everything playing, though.
However, due to its lightweight nature, there are no smart playlists, and there is no way to connect to online services. This is its
major downfall compared to the rest of the applications in this test, as with ever growing music libraries in multiple locations, your music may not be all available on your PC or laptop, or even your home network.
At the very least, Audacious is very customisable. From the behaviour of what it plays at startup to how it handles playlists and such, there’s an eye for making it convenient or keeping it lightweight. At least in that regard, it performs very well.
Audacious is fine as a lightweight music player, but for proper media management and integration you’ll need a bit more
A Linux favourite, how is the latest Clementine player
Clementine is based on the KDE music player, Amarok, but with a few improvements and a much better interface. It’s quickly become a very popular media player and the latest version, 1.2, has arrived with a whole host of great new features. These are sure to attract new users while appeasing die-hard fans who still want to use their favourite media player in a changing landscape of music consumption.
First of all, Clementine now has access to a lot more music streaming services than before, with new additions such as Dropbox and Ubuntu One joining the already impressive list of existing ones. These include Google Drive, Spotify, SoundCloud, Last.fm and Grooveshark. You can easily search within the free services using the built-in Clementine search functions, and you can log in to do the same with the account-driven services such as Spotify and the cloud storage ones. These settings are easily found in the preferences menu under a different section to the vast wealth of customisation options that Clementine offers.
Through these options you can change just about every way Clementine behaves, from simple things like how it might fade between tracks, to tweaking the transcoding settings or even setting a Wii Remote as a remote control device. New in Clementine 1.2 is the ability to use an Android device as a remote, a feature which has been a long time coming. However, instead of using a basic HTTP interface, it uses a special app to make it work.
Playback is fantastic, with a special Clementine icon ticking down to the end of the song, and showing a play symbol so you know it’s actually going. While you can control Clementine from here, you can also control it from the usual volume control icons if you’re using the right desktop environment.
Clementine basically has it all, then. Its smart playlist feature, the dynamic random mix, isn’t quite as good as some online equivalents, but it’s a lot better than any of the other players in this test. It also has the greatest selection of online services it connects to, is the most customisable and makes finding your music easy.
An amazing piece of software that lets you do just about anything you’d want to do with all of your music
Similar to Rhythmbox, and not as popular as Clementine
As mentioned in the Rhythmbox review, Banshee was the one-time default audio player for Ubuntu, replacing and then being usurped by Rhythmbox. Due to this, you’d be forgiven in thinking that they’re incredibly similar applications – and in some regards they are. They both employ a similar three-pane layout for your media, and they both include a column down the side for navigating your media, videos, podcasts and online services. At the core, they also both run off GStreamer, which is a great media back-end and allows the two to play just about anything with the right codecs installed.
The interface for Banshee is nice and easy to use, and very responsive. Search is instant, bringing up results as you type, and the way results are listed is conducive to finding the tracks, album or artist you’re looking for. The album pane on the main interface has thumbnails of the album art instead of a list – although the grid effect can be disabled if you wish. It all works very well and, like all the others, integrates just fine with the desktop environments that allow for playback options via volume controls.
Customisation wise, there’s not a whole lot more than Rhythmbox. You can’t even set a specific interval or time for the music library to update. These kind of features are sorely missing, especially compared to Clementine and Audacious which have a whole host of different features and options that can help you streamline the experience. At the very least, there’s a fairly rich plug-in system and you can turn off some of the features of Banshee you don’t wish this way, making it much more lightweight than it is by standard. It’s through these extensions that the online services are included in Banshee – like Rhythmbox, though, there’s only a handful like Last.fm and Amazon. There are a few other, community-built extensions, but none to challenge the features of Clementine.
So overall, Banshee is pretty good. While it’s easy to compare it to Rhythmbox, it’s generally a little better, with better plug-in support that allows it to be more lightweight if you wish, and a slightly cleaner and informative interface. It’s no Clementine, though.
Banshee is a great media player that we’d be very happy to use if we didn’t have access to any online services
Clementine is really the clear winner in this test, being the best in just about every regard thanks to a fantastic Amarok base, a very smart interface that integrates all modern ways of listening to music, and a great selection of online services. Wherever you like to listen to your media, Clementine can help you get it on your Linux system and easily control it via a number of graphical methods, or even keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys.
The other audio players don’t really come close to it. Audacious is more focused on being lightweight, which while having its place, doesn’t make it at all competitive compared to Clementine’s wealth of features. Banshee and Rhythmbox are roughly on the same level with each other, and need a serious upgrade in terms of access to online services to really stay relevant.
For now though, Clementine really is the best application for listening to, and managing, your music.